The children of Israel have been brought out of Egypt by the powerful might of Yahweh. He demonstrated His power and authority over Pharaoh and the false gods of Egypt in the ten plagues and the parting of the Red Sea. Now, Yahweh is leading the Israelites to Mt. Sinai via a pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night. Along the way, the Israelites begin to grumble and complain against Moses as they encounter various trials.
Marah: Grumbling about Water
They traveled three days in the Wilderness of Shur without finding a place with water. When they did find water, they could not drink it because it was bitter. Exodus 15:24 says, “So the people grumbled at Moses saying, ‘What shall we drink?’” They called the name of the place Marah which means bitterness. Moses “cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a tree and he threw it into the waters, and the waters became sweet” (15:25). Yahweh heard their grumbling and supernaturally provided water for them to drink. He Yahweh tested them and told them that if they trust Him and obey His commands, “I will put none of the diseases on you which I have put on the Egyptians; for I, the Lord am your healer” (15:26). He is Yahweh-Rapha: Lord who heals. They then were led to a place with much water.
Manna: Grumbling about Food
Yahweh then led them to the Wilderness of Sin. Soon after arriving, “the whole congregation of the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness” (Ex 16:2). They began to reminisce about the time in Egypt when they had food: “pots of meat and bread to the full” (16:3). They accused Moses, saying: “you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger” (16:3). Yahweh heard their grumbling and told Moses, “I will rain bread from heaven for you’ and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether or not they will walk in My instruction” (16:4).
The bread was called Manna because they did not know what it was. Manna means “What is it?” Yahweh also sent them quail at night. So, they had bread in the morning and meat at night. Yahweh told Moses to tell the people to take as much as you need for the day and eat it on that day. On the sixth day they were to take enough for that day and the seventh because it was the Sabbath. “Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath there will be none” (16:26). The people did not listen and took more than they needed or left part until morning. They also went out looking for bread on the Sabbath day.
Massah & Meribah: More Grumbling about Water
Yahweh continued leading them to a place called Rephidim. Here the people saw that there was no water to drink, “Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, ‘Give us water that we may drink’” (Ex 17:2). Moses warned them against testing Yahweh “but the people thirsted there for water; and they grumbled against Moses and said, ‘Why, now, have you brought us up from Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?’” (17:3). The people were so upset that Moses was concerned they would stone him (17:4). Yahweh told Moses to take his staff and strike the rock at Horeb (Sinai) and water would appear. Moses did so and the people had plenty to drink. Moses named the place Massah (which means Test) and Meribah (which means Quarrel) “because of the quarrel of the sons of Israel, and because they tested the Lord, saying, ‘Is the Lord among us, or not?’” (17:7).
The Sinfulness of Unthankfulness
At first glance it may seem like Yahweh is irritated with the children of Israel for pestering Him with requests. If not careful, we could think that Yahweh is being derelict in His responsibilities because He is failing to provide them with the basics for life: food and water. We could get the wrong idea that Yahweh is like a grumpy father of young kids who gets irritated with them because they keep “bothering” him with requests for something to eat and drink. So, what exactly is going on? What is Yahweh doing? Yahweh told Moses in Exodus 16:4, that He allowed these things to happen “that I may test them, whether or not they will walk in My instruction.” In Deuteronomy 8:2-3—40 years after the events in Exodus 16-17—Yahweh told them: “You shall remember all the way which the LORD your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD.”
Yahweh was not irritated with the Hebrews because they kept asking Him for stuff, He was putting them through trials to test the genuineness of their faith. Sadly, they failed regularly through their complaining: “Would that we had died by the Lord’s hand in the land of Egypt…” (16:3), “Why have you brought us up from Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” (17:3), “Is the Lord among us or not?” (17:7). They grumbled and complained against Moses, but they were actually grumbling against Yahweh (16:8). Their complaints against Yahweh revealed that they did not trust Him and therefore were calling God’s character into question by doubting His word and His promises.
When we allow the circumstances of life to determine our attitude, we betray a lack of trust in God. When we grumble, we demonstrate that we are not satisfied. When we are not satisfied, we are telling God that we are not satisfied with Him and/or we do not think He is (or can) take better care of us than we can ourselves. All this comes from pride. It is sin in our lives that we must recognize, confess, and forsake. So, instead of complaining, let us praise. Instead of grumbling, let us glory in Christ. Instead of murmuring, let us remember God’s faithfulness and mercy. Christians have no reason to complain because we have been redeemed and restored. God has promised to take perfect care of us and bring us into His eternal home. Therefore, let us praise the Lord, follow His commands, and love Him!